Clark is one of the founding members of the Contact collaborative research project whose aim is to investigate the role environment plays in shaping the nature of conscious experience. Professor Clark’s papers and books deal with the philosophy of mind and he is considered a leading scientist in mind extension. He has also written extensively on connectionism, robotics, and the role and nature of mental representation.
Clark’s work explores a number of disparate but interrelated themes. Many of these themes run against established wisdom in cognitive processing and representation. Typically, our common or ‘folk’ psychology tells us that thinking is a matter of forming veridical representations of the world such that we may properly interact with it. According to this sort of account, when I walk into a room my senses reconstruct a copy of the scene before me in my mind. Thinking becomes a matter of considering this inner model and issuing orders appropriate to my desires. The job of the mind becomes one of constructing accurate representations for processing by some inner executive.
According to Clark, this folk psychological model which forms the basis of much research in Artificial Intelligence immediately involves us in several intractable problems. The greatest of these is an informational bottleneck. If it is the job of the senses to reconstruct an inner model of the real world, there will always be too much that needs to be processed before timely action can take place. For Clark, we really need very little information about the world before we may act effectively upon it. We tend to be susceptible to a ‘grand illusion’ where our impression of a richly detailed world obscures a reality of minimal environmental information and quick action. We needn’t reconstruct the world within, as the world is able to serve as its own best model from which we extract information on a ‘just-in-time’ basis.
This anti-representationalist stance dovetails with Clark’s view on the nature of cognition. If we needn’t posit detailed representations for cognitive processing, we also needn’t posit some sort of Cartesian Theatre where a homunculus determines the import of those representations. According to Clark, human cognition is characterized by a series of dynamic feedback loops that span brain, body, and world.